Eating three meals a day at regular times, about four to six hours apart, is an essential part of controlling blood glucose levels. This is why lunch is such an important part of your daily routine whether it’s home-made, eaten out, or ordered to go! Here are some ideas to help keep a healthy lunch on your daily menu.
Making your own lunch it is always a good option. It gives you more control over what to include in your meal, how the food is prepared, and it’s a great way to save cash! To help beat the morning rush pack all or a portion of your lunch the night before. The type and amount of food you include in your lunch are important. A well-balanced lunch should include three of the four food groups from Canada’s Food Guide. Load your lunch bag with veggies and fruit, include fibre-packed whole grains like bread, pitas, or tortillas, combined with protein from the meat and alternative food group, like lean meat, fish, legumes, or tofu. Fibre and protein choices help fill you up and don’t cause a sudden rise and fall in blood glucose levels. Add extra vegetables by packing salads, or load up sandwiches with a variety of vegetables like tomato, grated carrot and peppers, and have pre-cut vegetables on-hand to add to your bag!
A healthy brown-bagged lunch, as recommended by the Canadian Diabetes Association’s Just the Basics, could include1:
- 2 slices of whole grain bread or 6” pita
- Lean meat, chicken or fish (2oz, 60 g)
- Tomato slices
- Non-hydrogenated margarine (1 tsp, 5 mL)
Low-fat yogurt (3/4 cup, 175 mL)
Tea or coffee
Eating Out and Cafeteria Choices
Buying your lunch? Not a problem! When eating at a restaurant or cafeteria, the same rule applies - to have a least three of the four food groups. Eyeball portions so you don’t go overboard on the amount of food you eat and use the plate method to evaluate your lunch. Half your plate should be filled with veggies, a quarter with grains or starchy vegetables, and the last quarter with meat and alternatives. If portions are large, don’t feel obligated to eat everything on your plate, split your meal with a friend or take leftovers to go. Make informed choices, read the menu carefully, check menu information online beforehand if possible, or ask your server for details on menu items. If eating out means you eat either earlier or later than your regular mealtime, compensate by eating a smaller breakfast, or if eating later, have a light snack to tide you over. When you buy your lunch, simple changes that can help make lunch healthier. Avoid added fat with your veggies and choose a side salad or cooked vegetables instead of fries; increase fibre by opting for whole wheat instead of white bread; and to reduce unwanted fats, ask for mustard or salsa instead of mayonnaise on your sandwich or wrap, ask for gravy or creamy sauces or salad dressings on the side, and choose to dress your salad with a light vinaigrette.
Try to take a scheduled lunch time break as often as possible – it has some great health benefits! It encourages mindful eating, which helps you be aware of what you eat and can help prevent over-eating, it can help reduce stress, and it gives you an opportunity to get active.
Try not to make it a habit but if there are a few days when you just can’t get away from your desk, be sure not to miss out on eating lunch and follow all the tips above. Also take a short break to get moving - walk around the office and do a few exercises at your desk such as like leg lifts and bicep curls with a filled water bottle. Make lunch at your desk the exception rather than the rule. Be sure to set aside time for lunch as often as possible.
Stay on Track
To help you stick to your regular meal plan, here are some food options to keep on hand that help make preparation of a healthy lunch or snack easy:
Salad veggies and veggies cut into sticks, fresh fruit. To make sure you get your vegetables and fruit!
Whole grain breads, wraps, crackers, bread sticks and breakfast cereals. Always choose high fibre options. Breakfast cereals can be a great option, even for lunch or a snack! Choose a sugar-free or low-sugar variety that has at least 4 grams of fibre per serving.
Natural cheese, low fat milk, yogurt and cottage cheese. To help get your daily servings of milk.
Hummus, peanut butter, canned tuna, hard boiled eggs. These can be used as part of lunch or in a snack.
Canned or dehydrated soups. Choose vegetable, broth-based soups that are trans-fat free.
Cereal bars. Choose a low-sugar option that has 2 or more grams of fibre.
Add your own personal favourites to the list of foods to keep on hand. When you have the right foods available making a healthy lunch is quick and easy. And remember to stay healthy and manage your diabetes - always eat your lunch!
1. Canadian Diabetes Association. (2010). Just the Basics. CDA Clinical Practice Guidelines.